Tim Howard has been a rock in goal for the US National Team and for his club team Everton FC. He has been the number one goalkeeper for the US for the past seven years and started every game for them in the 2010 World Cup. At Everton Howard started 210 straight matches, two short of the club record. His play is solid and consistent, his manager and teammates know what they are getting from him each time he steps out onto the pitch.
More impressive than Howard’s run at Everton or his splendid play for the USA is that he does it all while suffering from Tourette’s Syndrome.
Howard recently sat down with Germany’s Spiegel Online to talk about living and playing with this disease.
While training and during a match, I may develop a pronounced twitch in one of my arms, or my neck or one of my eyes. It is usually very sudden. Sometimes I start coughing, or individual muscles contract.
Remarkably, when the ball is around Howard’s net he is able to suppress his tics and focus 100% on the game.
SPIEGEL: As a goalkeeper you can scarcely afford to make any mistakes. What do you do if your arm twitches uncontrollably during a game?
Howard: As long as the game is not happening right in front of my nose but somewhere in the midfield, I let it twitch. I don’t try to suppress it, either.
SPIEGEL: And if the ball comes near you?
Howard: Then I am all there. It’s strange. As soon as things get serious in front of the goal, I don’t have any twitches; my muscles obey me then.
SPIEGEL: How do you do that?
Howard: I have no idea. Not even the doctors can explain it to me. It’s probably because at that moment my concentration on the game is stronger than the Tourette syndrome.
SPIEGEL: Has a ball ever slipped out of your hands because of a tic?
Howard: I have dropped a number of balls during my career. But it has never been because of a tic.
SPIEGEL: Do you worry that this could happen one day?
Howard: It won’t.
When Howard began his career at Manchester United, he was mocked by a few headlines and members of the media. He never let it get to him.
SPIEGEL: After you had signed with Manchester United in 2003, the British tabloid media described you as “disabled” and called you the “cursing goalkeeper.” How did you deal with that?
Howard: It didn’t bother me. These headlines were written by people who had no idea about Tourette syndrome. They didn’t know that I am neither disabled, nor do I curse. But uneducated people are in the habit of making unqualified assertions. I have to live with that.
Howard’s focus now is on qualifying the USA for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and helping Everton win some trophies. When all is said and done he could be the best keeper to ever play for both his country and his club.